by Gene Owens
Since we moved into a semi-rural setting on the fringe of a Knoxville-sized urban area, we've watched the subdivisions and condos move in like kudzu and obliterate the open space. Now all we need to become an authentic part of urban sprawl is a strip shopping center, and I thought I knew where it was going.
There was a large open field of kudzu a half-mile or so from our condo. There were no trees or structures in the field, so the vine just lay flat. That didn't bother me. Even lying flat, Kudzu looks a sight better than the junk it covers.
I envisioned large populations of small wildlife living under its shade and I wondered what would happen to these small creatures after the bulldozers had come in, scraped off the kudzu and prepped it for the throw-away buildings and asphalt parking lots that constitute most strip malls.
Imagine my surprise when I drove by one day and saw that the land had not been flattened by a bulldozer but harrowed by a farm tractor. Later, I saw shoots of corn poking above the red-clay soil.
Now, as midsummer approaches, the corn isn't looking so good. On the higher ground, there never was a good stand. We've been in an extended drought, and it has been devastating on green lawns, shrubbery and farm crops. Only kudzu can stay healthy under these conditions, and I have a feeling that before the field yields a harvest the corn stalks will be covered by a copious coverlet of leaves from the vine that et the South.
Send in the goats and llamas.
Out in Chattanooga, where kudzu has launched the most savage invasion since Gen. George Thomas' boys routed Braxton Bragg and his Rebs from Missionary Ridge, the city opted against sending in the cavalry and sent in the goats instead. Missionary Ridge has become a nice residential area since the Yankees went home, but it is now trying to fend off an onslaught of kudzu, which is more persistent than a Yankee army.
Llamas are prone to spitting, kicking and neck-wrestling when things aren't going their way. I would guess that a near-sighted llama might think of a goat as a kissing cousin worthy of being defended. Most dogs I know would retreat in the face of llama spit before the kicking and neck-wrestling became necessary.
Anyhow, that suggests to me that in view of the impending failure of the corn crop on the battlefield near my house, the owners might want to consider raising goats and llamas. Give kudzu a couple of months to retake the field, and you should have enough vegetation to support an army of ungulates.
Contrary to myths that kudzu has no commercial value, the stuff can be nourishing for animals that feast on leaves. When I was a boy, Daddy and Pappy Rains, my grandfather, sharecropped one hard year. Kudzu grew ravenously on the poorer land unfit for cultivation. They harvested it and baled it and sold it, adding to our meager cash income that year.
Since then, I've eaten kudzu jelly and carried klediments in a basket made from kudzu vines.
Communities these days aren't nearly as scared of kudzu as they are of Wal-Mart. We've learned to co-exist with kudzu, which adds interesting shapes to an otherwise drab landscape. The addition of goats and llamas would add to the attractiveness of any Southern neighborhood.
On the other hand, some communities have a hard time dealing with Wal-Mart. It can go hard on mom-and-pop businesses and may push their owners onto the welfare rolls.
I ain't knocking Wal-Mart, but I'd much rather have as my neighbor a kudzu patch populated with goats than a patch of asphalt populated with pickups and SUVs. I'm willing to drive a few miles to do my shopping. I'd like to look out my front window and see something green that isn't a shopping cart.
Gene Owens has been around the Southern journalistic scene for 48 years. He has been senior associate editor of The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., and editorial-page editor of the Roanoke Times in Roanoke, Va.
As senior editor for Creative Services, a management consulting firm in High Point, N. C., he ghosted more than a dozen published books for professional clients. For the past nine years he has been assistant managing editor, political editor and columnist for the Mobile Register. Register readers named him their favorite local columnist, and readers of the independent regional magazine, Bay Weekly, agreed. He was runner-up in the regional Green Eyeshades competition among writers of humor columns.
He has been on the board of directors of the National Conference of Editorial Writers and was editor of The Masthead, the NCEW’s national quarterly. He is in semi-retirement in Anderson, S. C.
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Write Gene Owens at 317 Braeburn Drive, Anderson SC 29621 or e-mail him at WadesDixieCo@aol.com
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